Distinguished guests and community leaders filled the Arkansas Best Corporation Center for the Performing Arts auditorium on a pre-semester Thursday night in August. Joined by University of Arkansas - Fort Smith administration, staff and students, they listened to Chancellor Paul Beran present the university’s five-year strategic plan.
Flanked on either side by his cabinet of Vice Chancellors, Beran discussed a “fluid plan that will get reviewed and amended on a regular basis, but the core of it will be what drives the institution for the next five years.” The plan—two years in the making—begins with vision and mission statements, and then presents six pillars which structuralize the strategy.
According to the vision statement, “UA Fort Smith will be a premier regional university, connecting education with careers.” The mission statement reaffirms this goal, saying, “UA Fort Smith prepares students to succeed in an ever-changing global world while advancing economic development and quality of place.”
In unveiling his plan, Beran chose to present the “bigger picture” by giving a basic overview of each major pillar and its sub-structure.
The first pillar was created with UA Fort Smith students in mind. It “most reflects the core of what we do every day” as a university, said Beran. By focusing on student activity, this pillar aims to fuel development as a center for intellectual, artistic, social, and cultural advancement. Chancellor Beran listed raising the bar on teaching and learning along with enhancement of quality student life programs as key aspects to this objective.
To achieve these goals, the Chancellor hopes to recruit high-quality faculty and support staff. Included with these initiatives are actions to provide accessibility to minority students, enhance academic incentive scholarships, and address the needs of non-traditional students. These objectives, along with programs for local youth, are targeted at “creating a seamless shift into academic programs at UA Fort Smith…” Beran said.
The second pillar focuses on maximizing citizenship and real-world work application experiences. Some initiatives under this pillar involve civic engagement, global awareness, innovation, and entrepreneurship. The three initiatives under this pillar are about “Helping students mature and grow into informed responsible citizens who emerge from the university prepared for a real-world career or further professional education,” Beran said.
The heading of section three reads: “Solidify and expand UA Fort Smith’s position as a primary contributor to economic development.” The recently acquired Mitsubishi plant in Fort Smith, encouraged partly by the enrichment potential offered by the university, exemplifies the plan’s goal of local business and education working together.
One action step under this heading includes expanding the library to meet and house business and industry research. Last March, UA Fort Smith administrators traveled to Washington, D.C and presented funding requests to Arkansas legislative members, one of which included a $6 million expansion of Boreham Library.
“Fulfilling the initiatives in the third pillar,” Beran said, “will assure a dynamic and synergistic partnership between the business and industry interests of Western Arkansas and higher education.”
Technology is the base of the fourth strategic pillar. With increased bandwidth, leadership changes, and a new perspective, the university’s technological goals are “moving forward at a warp speed.”
The Arkansas Research and Educational Optical Network (ARE-ON) extension project will impact distance learning and create more opportunities and access online for students, Beran said. An action step toward this pillar seeks to create computer centers around campus to maximize access to technology for study and social interaction at least 18 hours per day.
By recruiting more international students and offering more study-abroad opportunities, Chancellor Beran hopes to promote global learning initiatives. The fifth pillar’s strategic plan discusses the creation of cultural awareness and worldwide relationships through international travel and increased on-campus cultural activities.
“When I first came to UA Fort Smith, the only international students on campus were the few student athletes the coaches recruited,” noted Beran. While this situation has since changed, this pillar specifically targets growing the international student body.
Finally, the Chancellor and his team will continue to seek and steward resources through community partnerships and alumni relationships. Through philanthropy and other funding, the five-year plan will attempt to strategically grow resources.
Regarding growth, Beran mentioned, “Whenever we start talking about strategic plans, and we start talking about growing [and] increasing students, many people… around the university become uncomfortable.” He continued, “But we still have to make our plans. We have been good citizens, we’ve been good neighbors. And we will continue to be...on into the future.”
During his speech Beran also said, “The history of this institution has been about supporting general education and teaches critical and creative thinking skills, creating real-world opportunities for students, and supporting the business and industrial community with training and education. That is who we have been, and that’s who we need to continue to be as the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith.”
Growth and change, such as the expansion of campus housing and the addition of a new intramural field, fuel activity on campus. If the Chancellor and university administration can meet the 5-year plan’s goals, both students and the local community will benefit. The Chancellor encourages feedback and discussion, offering to discuss the plan by phone, email, or personal visit. “The University of Arkansas is your university,” he said.
Go to http://www.uafortsmith.edu/About/StrategicPlan to review or download the Strategic Plan.